North Central's Running Game Paves Way for Big Win
An offensive output among the best in the program's history led to a comfortable win for the North Central College football team on Saturday, as the Cardinals overpowered North Park University with their running attack and put a damper on the Vikings' Homecoming with a 58-17 win at the Holmgren Athletic Complex.
North Central (5-1, 3-0 College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin) piled up 474 rushing yards, the third-highest single-game total in school history and the most since the 1991 team turned in 503 yards, also in a win over North Park. The Cardinals' 590 total yards on Saturday is their ninth-most ever and is the team's second outing of 500 yards or more in the past three games.
The Cardinals' first drive resulted in their only turnover of the day, as a fumble halted the visitors' progress at the North Park 25-yard line. North Central's defense, however, forced a punt and retrieved the ball for the offense near midfield. On the next play from scrimmage, running back Nick Kukuc broke free for a 35-yard run, and Ryan Kent wound up capping off the drive with a one-yard touchdown run. With 6:25 still on the first-quarter clock, the Cardinals owned a 7-0 lead.
The Vikings (1-5, 0-3 CCIW) dropped back to punt on their second possession as well, but an errant snap went into the North Park end zone and resulted in a safety, tacking two points onto the Cardinals' lead. North Central took over on its own 43, and Spencer Stanek completed a pair of passes, totaling 48 yards, to tight endRyan Szudarski to leave the Cardinals nine yards from the goal line. Kukuc ran for the score on the next play, boosting the lead to 16-0.
North Park's next drive resulted in a turnover on downs at the 50-yard line. The Cardinals ran six plays, including five running plays, and extended their advantage to 23-0 on Jordan Tassio's 12-yard TD run with 12:40 on the clock in the second period. The Vikings got on the board with a 29-yard field goal by Tony Kebede, but North Central covered 81 yards in two plays to respond with its fourth touchdown of the half. Kukuc covered 25 yards on the Cardinals' next play, and Tassio followed by running for a 56-yard score.
North Central cornerback Connor Douglas forced and recovered a fumble at the Cardinals' 31 to halt the Vikings' next drive. Stanek drove the visitors down the field for the final score of the half, a 20-yard touchdown pass to tight end A.J. Thomaswith 1:34 left in the first half, and sent the Cardinals into the break with a 37-3 lead.
North Central's starters played just one series after halftime. After forcing a Viking punt, Kent opened the ensuing drive with a 37-yard run and wound up completing a 62-yard, six-play drive with a seven-yard TD run. North Park quarterback Jon Williams scored the hosts' first touchdown on a nine-yard run with 7:35 left in the third quarter, leaving the score at 44-10. Williams also had a 35-yard run earlier in the drive.
The Cardinals' special-teams unit contributed the team's next score. Halaiano Fuentes fielded a North Park punt at his own 35 and outran the Vikings' coverage for a 65-yard touchdown in his first punt-return attempt of the season. Williams completed a nine-yard TD pass to wide receiver Bryan Lorman for the Vikings' final score, which was answered on the following possession. The Cardinals ran more than nine minutes off the clock in a 13-play, 71-yard trek which culminated with a four-yard touchdown run by Denzel Thompson. North Central cornerback Matt Souvannasing ended the Vikings' final drive with an interception.
Tassio gained 112 yards on just six carries, while Kent picked up a season-high 103 yards on 10 attempts and Kukuc ran eight times for 97 yards. Stanek completed 9 of 14 passes for 116 yards and Szudarski was the Cardinals' top receiver with 54 yards on three catches. Stanek moved into fourth place in school history with 2,655 passing yards and Tassio tied Tyke Spencer '06 for fourth in touchdowns scored (29). Defensive end Dorian Hryniewicki and safety Shane Dierking shared the team lead in tackles with six each, and Hryniewicki also collected 2.5 of the Cardinals' nine tackles for loss.
Slotback Chris Broadway was North Park's top rusher with 53 yards on seven carries, while Williams gained 52 yards on 10 attempts. Williams also completed 10 of 14 passes for 141 yards. Cornerback Jordan Bevilacqua and safety Taylor Simental each finished with eight tackles.
Now owners of 19 straight CCIW wins and a record 18 straight conference wins by 20 points or more, the Cardinals complete a three-week stretch of road games next Saturday at Carthage College (3-3, 1-2) beginning at 6 p.m. The Red Men are coming off a 45-7 loss at Illinois Wesleyan University.